Monday, November 26, 2018

Guest Post: Lies, damn lies and post-truth

Lee McIntyre, Boston University

Most politicians lie.

Or do they?

Lee McIntyre respecting truthEven if we could find some isolated example of a politician who was scrupulously honest – former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps – the question is how to think about the rest of them.

And if most politicians lie, then why are some Americans so hard on President Donald Trump?

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told 6,420 lies so far in his presidency. In the seven weeks leading up to the midterms, his rate increased to 30 per day.

That’s a lot, but isn’t this a difference in degree and not a difference in kind with other politicians?

From my perspective as a philosopher who studies truth and belief, it doesn’t seem so. And even if most politicians lie, that doesn’t make all lying equal.

Yet the difference in Trump’s prevarication seems to be found not in the quantity or enormity of his lies, but in the way that Trump uses his lies in service to a proto-authoritarian political ideology.

I recently wrote a book, titled “"Post-Truth,” about what happens when “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence. Looked at from this perspective, calling Trump a liar fails to capture his key strategic purpose.

Any amateur politician can engage in lying. Trump is engaging in “post-truth.”

Beyond word of the year

Lee McIntyre Post-Truth The Oxford English Dictionaries named “post-truth” its word of the year in November 2016, right before the U.S. election.

Citing a 2,000 percent spike in usage – due to Brexit and the American presidential campaign – they defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Ideology, in other words, takes precedence over reality.

When an individual believes their thoughts can influence reality, we call it “magical thinking” and might worry about their mental health. When a government official uses ideology to trump reality, it’s more like propaganda, and it puts us on the road to fascism.

As Yale philosopher Jason Stanley argues, “The key thing is that fascist politics is about identifying enemies, appealing to the in-group (usually the majority group), and smashing truth and replacing it with power.”

Consider the example of Trump’s recent decision not to cancel two political rallies on the same day as the Pittsburgh massacre. He said that this was based on the fact that the New York Stock Exchange was open the day after 9/11.

This isn’t true. The stock exchange stayed closed for six days after 9/11.

So was this a mistake? A lie? Trump didn’t seem to treat it so. In fact, he repeated the falsehood later in the same day.

When a politician gets caught in a lie, there’s usually a bit of sweat, perhaps some shame and the expectation of consequences.

Not for Trump. After many commentators pointed out to him that the stock exchange was in fact closed for several days after 9/11, he merely shrugged it off, never bothering to acknowledge – let alone correct – his error.

Why would he do this?

Ideology, post-truth and power

The point of a lie is to convince someone that a falsehood is true. But the point of post-truth is domination. In my analysis, post-truth is an assertion of power.

As journalist Masha Gessen and others have argued, when Trump lies he does so not to get someone to accept what he’s saying as true, but to show that he is powerful enough to say it.

He has asserted, “I’m the President and you’re not,” as if such high political office comes with the prerogative of creating his own reality. This would explain why Trump doesn’t seem to care much if there is videotape or other evidence that contradicts him. When you’re the boss, what does that matter?

Should we be worried about this flight from mere lying to post-truth?

Even if all politicians lie, I believe that post-truth foreshadows something more sinister. In his powerful book “On Tyranny,” historian Timothy Snyder writes that “post-truth is pre-fascism.” It is a tactic seen in “electoral dictatorships” – where a society retains the facade of voting without the institutions or trust to ensure that it is an actual democracy, like those in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey.

In this, Trump is following the authoritarian playbook, characterized by leaders lying, the erosion of public institutions and the consolidation of power. You do not need to convince someone that you are telling the truth when you can simply assert your will over them and dominate their reality.The Conversation

Lee McIntyre, Research Fellow Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Guest Post: Why the Pilgrims were actually able to survive

Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Sometime in the autumn of 1621, a group of English Pilgrims who had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and created a colony called New Plymouth celebrated their first harvest.

They hosted a group of about 90 Wampanoags, their Algonquian-speaking neighbors. Together, migrants and Natives feasted for three days on corn, venison and fowl.

In their bountiful yield, the Pilgrims likely saw a divine hand at work.

As Gov. William Bradford wrote in 1623, “Instead of famine now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

But my recent research on the ways Europeans understood the Western Hemisphere shows that – despite the Pilgrims’ version of events – their survival largely hinged on two unrelated developments: an epidemic that swept through the region and a repository of advice from earlier explorers.

A ‘desolate wilderness’ or ‘Paradise of all parts’?

Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which he began to write in 1630 and finished two decades later, traces the history of the Pilgrims from their persecution in England to their new home along the shores of modern Boston Harbor.

William Bradford Plymouth Plantation

William Bradford’s writings depicted a harrowing, desolate environment.

Bradford and other Pilgrims believed in predestination. Every event in their lives marked a stage in the unfolding of a divine plan, which often echoed the experiences of the ancient Israelites.

Throughout his account, Bradford probed Scripture for signs. He wrote that the Puritans arrived in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.” They were surrounded by forests “full of woods and thickets,” and they lacked the kind of view Moses had on Mount Pisgah, after successfully leading the Israelites to Canaan.

Drawing on chapter 26 of the Book of Deuteronomy, Bradford declared that the English “were ready to perish in this wilderness,” but God had heard their cries and helped them. Bradford paraphrased from Psalm 107 when he wrote that the settlers should “praise the Lord” who had “delivered them from the hand of the oppressor.”

If you were reading Bradford’s version of events, you might think that the survival of the Pilgrims’ settlements was often in danger. But the situation on the ground wasn’t as dire as Bradford claimed.

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain depicted Plymouth as a region that was eminently inhabitable.
Source., Author provided

Earlier European visitors had described pleasant shorelines and prosperous indigenous communities. In 1605, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed past the site the Pilgrims would later colonize and noted that there were “a great many cabins and gardens.” He even provided a drawing of the region, which depicted small Native towns surrounded by fields.

About a decade later Captain John Smith, who coined the term “New England,” wrote that the Massachusetts, a nearby indigenous group, inhabited what he described as “the Paradise of all those parts.”

‘A wonderful plague’

Champlain and Smith understood that any Europeans who wanted to establish communities in this region would need either to compete with Natives or find ways to extract resources with their support.

But after Champlain and Smith visited, a terrible illness spread through the region. Modern scholars have argued that indigenous communities were devastated by leptospirosis, a disease caused by Old World bacteria that had likely reached New England through the feces of rats that arrived on European ships.

The absence of accurate statistics makes it impossible to know the ultimate toll, but perhaps up to 90 percent of the regional population perished between 1617 to 1619.

To the English, divine intervention had paved the way.

“By God’s visitation, reigned a wonderful plague,” King James’ patent for the region noted in 1620, “that had led to the utter Destruction, Devastacion, and Depopulation of that whole territory.”

The epidemic benefited the Pilgrims, who arrived soon thereafter: The best land had fewer residents and there was less competition for local resources, while the Natives who had survived proved eager trading partners.

The wisdom of those who came before

Just as important, the Pilgrims understood what to do with the land.

By the time that these English planned their communities, knowledge of the Atlantic coast of North America was widely available.

Those hoping to create new settlements had read accounts of earlier European migrants who had established European-style villages near the water, notably along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where the English had founded Jamestown in 1607.

These first English migrants to Jamestown endured terrible disease and arrived during a period of drought and colder-than-normal winters. The migrants to Roanoke on the outer banks of Carolina, where the English had gone in the 1580s, disappeared. And a brief effort to settle the coast of Maine in 1607 and 1608 failed because of an unusually bitter winter.

Many of these migrants died or gave up. But none disappeared without record, and their stories circulated in books printed in London. Every English effort before 1620 had produced accounts useful to would-be colonizers.

The most famous account, by the English mathematician Thomas Harriot, enumerated the commodities that the English could extract from America’s fields and forests in a report he first published in 1588.

The artist John White, who was on the same mission to modern Carolina, painted a watercolor depicting the wide assortment of marine life that could be harvested, another of large fish on a grill, and a third showing the fertility of fields at the town of Secotan. By the mid-1610s, actual commodities had started to arrive in England too, providing support for those who had claimed that North American colonies could be profitable. The most important of these imports was tobacco, which many Europeans considered a wonder drug capable of curing a wide range of human ailments.

These reports (and imports) encouraged many English promoters to lay plans for colonization as a way to increase their wealth. But those who thought about going to New England, especially the Pilgrims who were kindred souls of Bradford, believed that there were higher rewards to be reaped.

Bradford and the other Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts often wrote about their experience through the lens of suffering and salvation.

But the Pilgrims were better equipped to survive than they let on.The Conversation

Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Guest Post: Sweet potatoes, Donald Trump – and the Special Relationship

Rebecca Earle, University of Warwick

Two days after the US presidential election, The Independent reported that “Donald Trump has spoken with nine world leaders but has yet to call Theresa May, throwing her claim of a ‘special relationship’ into tatters.”

Eventually, the phone call was made. “Concerns over ‘special relationship’ allayed as Trump calls May,” read the headline in The Guardian a few days later. Time magazine reassured US readers that “Donald Trump and Britain’s Theresa May Affirm ‘Special Relationship’.”

It seems especially apt, as people in the US gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, to ponder the nature of the relationship between the two countries. After all, Thanksgiving forms part of an origin myth about how English settlers began the slow process of transforming themselves into Americans. The holiday commemorates the 1621 celebrations held at the Puritan settlement in Plymouth, which included, apparently, a large meal, some parading and a short religious service.

Scholars (and cartoonists) have deconstructed the holiday comprehensively, noting the invented nature of many of its core elements, its sporadic celebration before the 20th century, its erasure of European violence towards Native Americans and many other aspects. Overall, it’s clear that this holiday, like all national holidays, is an invented tradition based not only on collective remembering but also collective forgetting.

At the same time, while Thanksgiving masks a range of troubling and enduring aspects of US history, one feature merits some serious celebration: the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes in some form or another are now a structural element in the canonical Thanksgiving menu.

The authoritative New York Times cookery section recommends 14 different sweet potato side dishes, from classic maple-candied sweet potatoes to less traditional takes such as roasted sweet potatoes with horseradish butter. And that’s not even starting on sweet potato pies and puddings. This year, I plan to bake Paul Prudhomme’s sweet potato pecan pie. (After that, I will hibernate for an entire year while my digestive system processes the 4m calories it has ingested.)

A tart that is courage

The sweet potato is in fact part of a transatlantic food alliance that predates the original Thanksgiving feast. Sweet potatoes originated in the Americas, and formed a staple of the diets of Caribbean islanders. Columbus had never seen anything like them when he landed in the Bahamas in 1492. He compared them to African yams; others thought they tasted like turnips or chestnuts.

Once introduced into Europe, however, sweet potatoes quickly spread. By the late 16th century, they were grown on a commercial scale in the area around Malaga, Spain, and were considered “a good thing to eat” – in the words of one Spanish Jesuit.

But when did the sweet potato reach the British Isles? The English herbalist John Gerard included an illustration in his 1597 Herball. “Howsoever they bee dressed, they comfort, nourish, and strengthen the body”, he reported enthusiastically. Sweet potatoes quickly became popular in England, and many of the earliest recipes for “potatoes” may in fact refer to sweet potatoes. They were even grown at Hampton Court, for the delectation of Henry VIII, who reportedly learned to enjoy their honeyed delights from the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon.

 Sweet potatoes: ‘they comfort, nourish, and strengthen the body’. John Gerard's 'Herball' (1596)

Sweet potatoes: ‘they comfort, nourish, and strengthen the body’.
John Gerard's 'Herball' (1596)

After their marriage disintegrated, Henry had to rely on home-grown sweet potatoes, rather than Spanish imports. Gardeners at Hampton Court have recently demonstrated that sweet potatoes grow perfectly well in our scarcely tropical climate. The first printed recipe containing sweet potato is probably the description of how to make “a tart that is a courage to a man or woman”, which appeared in the Good Huswife’s Jewell, a cookbook published in London in 1596.

Before NATO … the sweet potato

Ironically, while Henry VIII enjoyed sweet potatoes in Tudor England, pilgrims in 1621 New England almost certainly did not feast on maple-candied sweet potatoes, or any sweet potatoes at all. Early records of the settlement make no mention of them and they were not native to the chilly shores of the north Atlantic. The oldest documents in the US that refer to sweet potatoes are actually from England.

Washington’s Folger Library, which holds a major collection of Shakespeariana, has recently unearthed an early recipe for sweet potato pudding from … Warwickshire! The pudding calls for potatoes (sweet or ordinary), eggs, sugar and a good dose of sherry. So new world sweet potatoes have been criss-crossing the Atlantic since the 16th century, forming a special relationship of eaters and growers that long predates NATO.

But what about Donald Trump? Does he have anything to do with this long history? Not really, although the internet is replete with images of sweet potatoes that resemble the president-elect and critics have called him a “xenophobic sweet potato”. Will Trump tuck into a traditional sweet potato pie or candied sweet potatoes for his Thanksgiving dinner? I don’t know and I certainly don’t care. But the sweet potato, unlike Trump, is unquestionably one of the new world’s gifts to Britain – and the world.

A recipe for sweet potato tart from Charles Carter, The Complete Practical Cook (London, 1730).


TAKE a Pound and half Spanish Potatoes [sweet potatoes]; boil them and blanch them, and cut them in Slices, not thin; sheet a Dish with Puff-paste, lay some Citron in the Bottom, lay over your Potatoes, and season them with Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Sugar; then take the Marrow of two Bones, cut it into Pieces as big as Walnuts, roll it in Yolks of Eggs, and season it as the Potatoes; lay it on them, and between the Lumps of Marrow lay Citron and Dates slic’d, and Eringoe Roots [I’d use candied angelica], sprinkle over some Sack and Orange-flower Water; then draw up a Quart of Cream boil’d with the Yolks of ten Eggs, and pour all over, bake it, and stick over some Citron, and serve it.
The Conversation

Rebecca Earle, Professor of HIstory, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guest Post: How advertising shaped Thanksgiving as we know it

Samantha N. N. Cross, Iowa State University

I have always been intrigued by Thanksgiving – the traditions, the meal, the idea of a holiday that is simply about being thankful.

For my family, Thanksgiving is all about the food. Some foods, like turkey and mashed potatoes, may be familiar. But there are a few twists. Since I grew up in the Caribbean, I’m allowed a Caribbean dish or two. The reliability of the menu – with a little flexibility sprinkled in – seems to unite us as a family while acknowledging our different cultural backgrounds.

Pumpkin pie Thanksgiving

Libby’s continues to fiercely compete with pumpkin pie peddlers Borden’s, Snowdrift and Mrs. Smith’s for a place on the Thanksgiving table.
Jean Beaufort

Chances are you and your family have similar traditions. Filipino-American families might include pancit. Russian-American families might serve a side dish of borscht. That’s what makes Thanksgiving unique. It’s a holiday embraced by people regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

Yet despite this adaptability, there’s a core part of the meal that almost everyone embraces. How did this come to be? Although few appreciate it, advertisers have shaped the meal as much as family tradition.

A uniquely broad appeal

When Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, first advocated for Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1846, she argued that it would unify the country. In our research, my colleagues and I have been able to show that Hale’s vision for the holiday has been largely fulfilled: Inclusivity of people and traditions has been Thanksgiving’s hallmark quality.

A reason for its broad appeal is that it lacks any association with an institutionalized religion. As one interviewee told us, “There is no other purpose than to sit down with your family and be thankful.” And after interviewing a range of people – from those born in the U.S. to immigrants from countries like South Africa, Australia and China – it became obvious that the principles and rituals they embraced during the holiday were universal no matter the culture: family, food and gratitude.

But as a relatively new holiday – one not tied to a religious or patriotic tradition – a shared understanding of the celebration and the meal is crucial to ensure its long-term survival.

While there might be subtle variations, the Thanksgiving meal is the lodestone of the holiday, the magnet that brings people together. Today, familiar items constitute the meal: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, alcohol, salad, apple pie and pumpkin pie. Many of our interviewees tended to serve some version of this list.

But why these items and not others? What makes turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie so special? My colleagues and I studied 99 years of Thanksgiving ads in Good Housekeeping magazine to find out.

Marketing a ritual

Starting with Thanksgiving’s early champion, Sarah Josepha Hale, the history of Thanksgiving is rooted in marketing. Marketers not only helped create many of the rituals and cultural myths associated with the Thanksgiving meal, but they also legitimized and maintained them.

Aladdin Cooking Utensils advertises its double roaster in a 1920 issue of Good Housekeeping.

Aladdin Cooking Utensils advertises its double roaster in a 1920 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Good Housekeeping

Initially, the Thanksgiving turkey competed with other meats, like duck, chicken and goose, for centerpiece at the Thanksgiving table.

But by the 1920s, turkey had become the only meat advertised. Early ads would focus on how to prepare and present the perfect bird, promoting branded tools like roasters, ranges, pop-up thermometers and oven-cooking bags.

Iconic Swift’s Premium turkey ads focused on the sacredness of the meal by featuring families at prayer, giving thanks before the meal begins. The importance of the turkey to the Thanksgiving celebration dominates, helping to perpetuate the Thanksgiving turkey tradition.

Meanwhile, early ads for the Eatmor Cranberry Company positioned their whole cranberries as a perfect complement to any and all Thanksgiving meat dishes. This brand dominated until the 1930s when another brand, Ocean Spray, entered with its canned gelatin cranberry sauce.

Eatmor Cranberries Thanksgiving advertising

Eatmor Cranberries – which used to be the king of Thanksgiving cranberry sauce – advertises in a November 1926 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Good Housekeeping

Ads for both brands implied that cranberry sauce has been around since the first Thanksgiving dinner, which was highly unlikely. However, the brand positioning war successfully promoted cranberry sauce as the natural condiment for the Thanksgiving turkey. Ocean Spray would triumph and, to this day, promotes whole cranberries and canned gelatin.

Considered by many to be the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, pumpkin pie also wasn’t present at the first Thanksgiving meal. (The Pilgrims lacked the butter, wheat flour and sugar to make the pastry.) Nonetheless, beginning as early as 1925, a range of brands – for example, Borden’s, Snowdrift, Mrs. Smith’s and Libby’s – have competed fiercely to connect pumpkin pie to the season, the holiday and the meal. It’s a rivalry that continues to this day.

The role of the consumer

Not every product category or brand succeeded in becoming a core part of the Thanksgiving meal.

A Swift’s Premium Turkey ad from 1964.

A Swift’s Premium Turkey ad from 1964.

A Welch’s ad from the 1960s implies that the first Thanksgiving meal included juice made from grapes. In 1928, Diamond marketed their walnuts as an accessory to dress up Thanksgiving dishes. Despite vociferous ad campaigns, few associate Welch’s grape juice or Diamond walnuts with Thanksgiving today.

But those early 20th-century ads for turkey clearly resonated: Today, nearly 88 percent of U.S. households have turkey on Thanksgiving, and approximately 20 percent of the turkeys consumed in any given year are consumed at Thanksgiving. This is a testament to the enduring influence of marketing on the holiday. For brands like Butterball (formerly Swift’s Premium), Thanksgiving is big business.

Whether you’re a turkey fan or not, prefer apple pie to pumpkin pie, enjoy canned gelatin over whole cranberry sauce, by celebrating Thanksgiving, you play a role as well. Marketers may have shaped many of the rituals of the holiday. But all Americans – from all backgrounds – certainly do their part to maintain them.

The ConversationAfter all, brands need customers to survive.

Samantha N. N. Cross, Associate Professor of Marketing, Iowa State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

From the Archives: African scholars bemoan Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama’s foreign policy

African scholars bemoan Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama’s foreign policy
November 21, 2011 2:16 PM MST

Although the annual meeting of the African Studies Association rotates among various American cities, this year it was the turn of Washington, D.C., to host it. Hundreds of academic experts on Africa – anthropologists, economists, linguists, political scientists, and others – gathered at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel from November 17 through November 20 for lectures, panel discussions, and networking.

African scholars Barack Obama Nobel peace prize ASA
One panel discussion was entitled “Obama’s Noble Ancestors: Nobel Prize Laureates of African Descent.” There were papers presented on earlier Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Ralph Bunche, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but the focus was very much on 2009 laureate Barack Obama, who won the prize only nine months after taking office as the 44th U.S. president.

Two of the panelists were highly critical of Obama’s performance in office, saying that he did not live up to the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize and that his foreign policy before and after winning the prize leaves much to be desired.

In a paper called “Obama’s Nobel Ancestors,” Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, noted that the announcement of Obama’s Nobel Prize came as he was preparing to send more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan.

‘Bush with a smile’

“Some of his foreign policy actions,” Adebajo said, “unfortunately have followed in the hawkish footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush. According to The Economist, in his first three years in office, Obama ordered targeted assassinations of terror suspects for an average of one drone attack every four days, compared to George Bush’s one every forty days."

These drone attacks, he pointed out, "have been mostly in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing hundreds of innocent women and children. As a result of these actions, some of us have been forced to ask whether Obama’s foreign policy could come to represent ‘Bush with a smile.’”

Adebajo, author of UN Peacekeeping in Africa, also found Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech “disappointing.”

It was, he explained, “quite a belligerent speech” in which Obama “was effectively explaining why force had to be used to bring about peace. A celebration of peace thus turned into a justification of war.”

Although he called Obama the “most cosmopolitan and urbane individual to occupy the White House,” Adebajo compared him unfavorably to Bill Clinton, saying Obama is “very much a dyed-in-the-wool politician cut from the same pragmatic cloth as his Democratic predecessor” as president.

Both presidents, he said, “have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice core principles on the altar of political survival.”

In fact, Adebajo concluded, “Barack’s instincts to be a force for good in the world have often been diverted by his country’s imperial temptations, as we saw recently in Libya.”

On the same panel, Ali A. Mazrui, director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at Binghamton University in New York, recalled that he “shed tears when Obama was elected president” and that he “was deeply moved even when he won the Nobel Prize for Peace,” but today he feels “upset that [Obama] has let us down so badly in foreign policy.”

‘Israeli-style assassinations’

In his paper on "Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize," Mazrui also pointed to the targeted assassinations that the Obama administration has employed in the war on terror in the Middle East and South Asia, which he referred to as “Israeli-style assassinations.”

Obama, he said, “has orchestrated more political assassinations, either by sending troops to kill somebody or by the drones, if I’m not mistaken, than any U.S. president in the last 100 years. “

On Obama’s record in office since winning the Nobel Prize, Mazrui, author of The Politics of War and the Culture of Violence, conceded that on domestic policy, Obama still “looks hopeful.”

On the other hand, with regard to Obama’s foreign policy, Mazrui quipped, “I’m sure whoever voted for that prize, says ‘what were we smoking that day?’”

One reason, he pointed out, is that “Obama is one of the very few U.S. presidents in history who managed three wars at the same time -- since winning the Nobel Prize.”

Mazrui also cast suspicion on the motivations that led to Obama’s award of the Nobel Prize in the first place.

Racial obsession

“For some people,” he said, “it’s easier to understand how Obama became President than why he won the Nobel Prize so soon after being elected.”

Noting that the stated reason by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for giving the prize to Obama was for his “diplomatic efforts,” Mazrui added that “I suspect the hidden agenda among those who nominated Obama was almost entirely in the domain of race relations. The issue of race and the prospect of peace has obsessed the Nobel Foundation in Oslo for more than a half a century.”

He pointed out that four out of the seven Nobel Peace Prize recipients from sub-Saharan Africa were all from South Africa and suggested that “the obsession with defining peace too narrowly in terms of race relations” has infected the deliberations of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on November 21, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Guest Post: The Lesser Known History of Thanksgiving in America

For a time, peace and plenty resulted not in a grateful America but in a complacent one.

by James R. Harrigan

On October 3, 1789, George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving Proclamation of the newly constituted American Republic. He called upon the American people to enjoy “a day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”

The Early Days of Giving Thanks
It had been a long and difficult road to Independence, and America was still reeling from the failed Articles of Confederation and the fight to adopt the new Constitution. Washington had seen the struggle first-hand, and he knew, perhaps more than anyone, that America was nothing less than a series of miracles. And he saw to it that the nation gave thanks.

Sarah Hale Thanksgiving historyThis was not the first celebration of Thanksgiving in America; the Pilgrims’ 1621 celebration with the Wampanoag in Plymouth holds that honor. Nor was this even Washington’s first Thanksgiving; he had proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 in the wake of the Continental Army’s victory over the British at Saratoga. This was, though, the first Thanksgiving of the American Republic. It was the first national Thanksgiving.

Washington went on to declare another observance in 1795, and his successor, John Adams, followed suit in 1798 and 1799. But as America’s position in the world was steadily established, and as the debate on the separation of church and state began to take shape, Thanksgiving was all but forgotten on the national stage.

A condition of peace and plenty resulted not in a grateful America but in a complacent one. The War of 1812, though, reminded Americans that their collective place in the world was more tenuous than they had realized. And at the close of the war in 1814 James Madison proclaimed “a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare” of the United States. Madison declared another Thanksgiving in 1815.

And then nearly half a century passed.

The Birth of Thanksgiving As We Know It
Thanksgiving historyOnce again things were calm, and once again national Thanksgiving observances fell by the wayside. The Founding Generation, America’s finest generation, had passed, and with them the possibility of a national gratefulness seemed to pass as well. Just as the War of 1812 had reminded the nation of its precariousness, though, the Civil War shattered the illusion of American harmony. Abraham Lincoln had warned the nation in 1858 that “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and by 1863 the divided country was indeed in danger of falling.

Americans turned to Lincoln, and Lincoln turned to God. Even in the midst of the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, Lincoln saw America’s blessings. “The year that is drawing toward its close,” he said, “has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”

At America’s lowest ebb, the nation’s most dedicated servant chose to give thanks rather than bemoan his own, and America’s collective, lot, and there were indeed reasons to be thankful. As Lincoln said,

Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
And this was the birth of Thanksgiving as we have come to know it. In the worst of times, in conditions so dire that the continued existence of the Republic was unsure, Lincoln taught us to look beyond ourselves…to be truly thankful for the blessings that we have received. And so it has been for 143 years.

As we celebrate Lincoln’s holiday on the last Thursday in November, take a moment to contemplate the series of miracles that brings and keeps us together. Take a cue from Washington and sense the magnitude of the achievement of the generation that built this country, oftentimes through little more than force of will. Take a cue from Lincoln and appreciate the blessings that we do enjoy rather than pining for things we don’t. Take a cue from the best America has produced and say a prayer of thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Reprinted from Vision and Values.

James R. Harrigan Thanksgiving FreedomTrust

James R. Harrigan is CEO of FreedomTrust.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Guest Post: Maine congressional election an important test of ranked-choice voting

Steven Mulroy, University of Memphis

In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, an innovative vote-counting system has had its trial run in a federal election.

vote here venable precinct charlottesville RCV instant runoffNo candidate received a majority of the overall vote in the 2018 midterms. Rather, the vote was split between four candidates – a Democrat, a Republican and two left-leaning independent candidates who garnered 8 percent of the votes between them. As a result, Maine used the ranked-choice voting counting process to determine a majority winner.

As a University of Memphis law professor, I’ve studied and published on ranked-choice voting for years, and have a book on it coming out next month. Naturally, I find the inaugural use of ranked-choice voting in a federal election fascinating. I also believe it’s a significant step forward for election reform.

Under ranked-choice voting (more precisely, the variety of ranked-choice voting also known as “instant runoffs”) voters can rank their candidates in order of preference – first, second, third and so on. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, the system eliminates the candidate with the fewest first-place votes. In Maine, that meant eliminating independent candidate Will Hoar, who got only 2.4 percent of the vote.

The system then redistributes the votes for that eliminated candidate among the remaining candidates based on the second choices indicated by voters. If a candidate now has a majority of votes, that candidate wins. If there’s still no majority winner, the system again eliminates the weakest candidate and transfers the votes as before, with the process continuing until there is a majority winner.

Ranked-choice voting is used in more than 10 U.S. cities. Six states use it for overseas ballots. Australia has used it for over 100 years. The Oscars use it, as does the Heisman Trophy.

Maine voters adopted ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2016. Court challenges and state legislative action delayed implementation, but voters reaffirmed their support in a second referendum in 2018.

Proponents cite a number of advantages of this system. It allows for a majority winner without the trouble, expense and historically low turnout of a runoff. By reducing campaign costs for the runoff, it levels the playing field for lesser-funded candidates, making elections more competitive. It also encourages civil campaigns. Candidates want to be the first choice of their own base, but the second choice of their opponents’ bases. Thus, they’re less willing to risk alienating those voters with attack ads.

Critics say ranked-choice voting is too confusing for voters, or too hard to administer. However, it has been successfully implemented in over 200 local elections in over a dozen U.S. cities over the past 20 years, without mass voter confusion.

Ranked-choice voting also solves the “vote-splitting” problem common to plurality, or “first past the post” systems, where a candidate can win with less than 50 percent as long as he gets more votes than other candidates. If too many candidates who reflect the majority’s view run, they will split that vote. That allows a candidate with 40 percent of the vote to win – even though 60 percent of the voters would say, “anybody but him.” Maine elected controversial Gov. Paul LePage with only 37 percent of the vote. During that election, liberal voters were split between a Democrat and a left-leaning third-party candidate.

A similar dynamic occurred in Maine during the midterms. Two left-leaning independent candidates, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar, got 5.8 percent and 2.4 percent of the vote respectfully, enough to deny both the Democratic and Republican candidate a majority.

Democratic nominee Golden ultimately won under ranked-choice voting. Many liberals who voted for the independent candidates ranked him second. As a result, this was the first time a Maine incumbent lost in over 100 years - demonstrating the rank-choice voting proponents’ claim that the system makes elections more competitive.

Fearing precisely that dynamic, Republican Poliquin who lost under rank choice voting filed a lawsuit challenging the process. A judge rejected his request for a temporary injunction blocking the ranked-choice counting process, but the underlying legal challenge continues.

The lawsuit alleges that anything other than a plurality election for the U.S. House violates the Constitution and federal civil rights statutes. But nothing in the text of the Constitution requires a plurality-only election for the U.S. House. The cases cited in the complaint merely say states are allowed to permit plurality elections, not that they must require them. Indeed, the Elections Clause of the Constitution provides that each state can “prescribe” the “Manner of holding Elections for … Representatives.” That’s how other states can and do require congressional candidates to win with a majority, using separate runoff elections where necessary

Moreover, this lawsuit is probably filed too late. The proper time to raise these issues would have been before the election.

For these reasons, I think the legal challenge will fail, and we will see, for the first time in U.S. history, a congressional race decided using this innovative new system.The Conversation

Steven Mulroy, Law Professor in Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Election Law, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Guest Post: How Communism Almost Ruined The First Thanksgiving

The Plymouth Pilgrims progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism.

by Richard M. Ebeling

This time of the year, whether in good economic times or bad, Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together. It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving is also a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

Plymouth Colony Planned as Collectivist Utopia
thanksgiving table food turkeyIn the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked the land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

Collective Work Equaled Individual Resentment
As Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):

For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could husbands brook it.”
Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.

Private Property as Incentive to Industry
Realizing that another season like those that had just passed would mean the extinction of the entire community, the elders of the colony decided to try something radically different: the introduction of private property rights and the right of the individual families to keep the fruits of their own labor.

As Governor Bradford put it:
And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end . . . This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
The Plymouth Colony experienced a great bounty of food. Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but also they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement.

In Governor Bradford’s words:
By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

Rejecting Collectivism for Individualism
Hard experience taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. As Governor Bradford expressed it:
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; -- that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”
Was this realization that communism was incompatible with human nature and the prosperity of humanity to be despaired or be a cause for guilt? Not in Governor Bradford’s eyes. It was simply a matter of accepting that altruism and collectivism were inconsistent with the nature of man and that human institutions should reflect the reality of man’s nature if he is to prosper. Said Governor Bradford:
Let none object this is man’s corruption, and nothing to the curse itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them."
The desire to “spread the wealth” and for government to plan and regulate people’s lives is as old as the utopian fantasy in Plato’s Republic. The Pilgrim Fathers tried and soon realized its bankruptcy and failure as a way for men to live together in society.

They, instead, accepted man as he is: hardworking, productive, and innovative when allowed the liberty to follow his own interests in improving his own circumstances and that of his family. And even more, out of his industry result the quantities of useful goods that enable men to trade to their mutual benefit.

Giving Thanks for the Triumph of Freedom
Thanksgiving traditionsIn the wilderness of the New World, the Plymouth Pilgrims progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism. At a time of economic uncertainty and growing political paternalism, it is worthwhile recalling this beginning of the American experiment and experience with economic freedom.

This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. This year, when we, Americans sit around our dining table with family and friends, we should also remember that what we are really celebrating is the birth of free men and free enterprise in that New World of America.

The true meaning of Thanksgiving, in other words, is the triumph of Capitalism over the failure of Collectivism in all its forms.

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.